By Ned Egan

I’m talking now about a fine girl, in anyone’s language. The scene is set in the early nineteen-forties. Its main gist is about what was – or wasn’t – a ‘made-match.’ Names have been changed – memories are still long in the countryside ….

The father of Katie, the girl in the story, was a businessman/farmer in South Tipperary, Dan Earls. There was plenty of the old moolah in his own family line – and he’d married well. His wife, Ann, was a kind and bright woman. Time moved on, and his own turn came to ‘marry-off’ the daughters, which he did, with a good dowry each. Two of them, anyway, very successfully; and another to follow, about whom he didn’t have a worry in the world.. And about whom this story is mainly set. {A person of these days would consider the whole ‘dowry’ scene very odd, musing that ‘such money can only bring misery.’ Perhaps. But many acres can also bring acres of smiles! And if misery does happen to show up eventually – isn’t it handier to be unhappy in luxury…? Tell me true…

His several fine sons had already been given good starts in life – farms – or sound spots in Dublin.. Sure, who deserves – or needs – more than such sound leg-ups?

Anyway, the pert and pretty Katie – the last of the girls – was up around her ‘ransom time’ – as she cheerfully called it – and Big Dan was having a look around. Actually he’d been ‘studying form’ amongst the local young bloods for some time – observance of rivals being the chief reason why he had amassed so much property and ready money. {You don’t stack up ‘loadsa tin’ with your eyes closed; neither then – nor now.}

So, a near neighbour, Mattie McCann, was the lad he looked most favourably upon. Be it known that Dan was an enlightened fellow, for his times, and knew his onions – so he asked the young lad down to ‘help with the hay’ – an activity that would put the young people in close proximity. He’d never forced a son or daughter into anything, hadn’t Dan. But he was a wily old bird at baiting cute little romantic traps! His children knew well his tricks – but as things worked out more than good for them all – they could well afford to smile.

The new hay-machines had just come in, and Dan of course, had one. A sweetly chattering two-horse instrument, by the famous Pierce of Wexford, it spread once-heard-never-forgotten jangly musical notes far and wide, and in those quiet idyllic days of high-summer, it could be heard miles away, on the carrying warm wild-woodbine-scented breeze.

The machine had cut the meadow into continuous swathes {‘swarths’- as we called them} a few days before, and now it was time to ‘turn’ them – spin and shake the swarths upside down – so as to expose the damp underside to the breeze and sun. Generally two or three people walked along in echelon, using pitchforks for the task.

It was considered a light job in those days of not-many-easy tasks. By some{?} coincidence, Mattie and Katie made up the team working the rounds of the Elm Feld.. Things went well – in every way. Under no pressure, they swung along handy, and Mattie was most impressed with the tawny-haired willowy graceful girl in front of him. He’d been gent enough – and clever enough – to let her set the pace. Few indeed were the opportunities in those far days for a lad to see the fine figure of a girl he fancied, at such close quarters. And they had the field to themselves – another coincidence…..

Big Dan didn’t even dream of spying on them – his children had never needed ‘watching.’ He had all the other workers in the next field, and was busy himself collecting up the dried hay from the swarths with the ‘Tumbling Rake,’ and carrying it to the men to make ‘cocks’ of. {Several of the cocks would later be used to make one ‘tram-cock’. {The ‘Tumbling Rake’ – in some areas referred to as the ‘Tumbling Tommy’ – was one of the most truly fearsome murderous machines ever made.}

Anyway, the ‘tay’ was brought out by a servant-girl, and the pair of young haymakers had a good chat, and found things to their liking.

Very soon, Mattie was the white-haired-boy at Dan’s house, and permission was given for them to ‘walk out’ – which meant – in those times – walking up and down the light-aired summer-evening roads – but always keeping within sight of at least one house. An old-fashioned sort of ‘Community Watch’ – with a different slant on those words. It worked; well, most of the time, anyway…

After a spell of indulging in this pleasant pastime, nature – in its own urgent, surging, way – started making sly demands of the couple, using age-old feelings and youthful emotions to suggest that it was high time for more to be done at close-quarters than was strictly allowable. So the two petitioned their parents for permission to wed. There was no objection at all to the wedding – that was regarded as a ‘racing cert’ almost from the first hay-day.

Actually, after just a few months ‘walking’, Mattie had made a small unusual gesture – for the times – that provided a lot of giggles throughout the Earls’ family. One October evening he presented Katie with a little ‘love ring’ – a shiny mock-silver item – which she wore on a finger of not much significance. When her pal Joan happened to comment that it looked like an ‘oul tin Chape Jack yoke’, Katie laughed – and put it down to sour grapes: Joan was still on the look-out for a lad, so Katie’s great romance didn’t float any boats in that quarter. Such are often the ways of close friendship…{I want you to be happy – but not happier than me…}

Ned E


The opinions, beliefs and viewpoints expressed by the author do not necessarily reflect the opinions, beliefs and viewpoints of The Kilkenny Observer.

Previous Making sure you get all your tax allowances
Next From Long Island to Kilkenny as Martine and Jeremy exchange vows at St Mary’s Cathedral