There was no greater joy in the life of a child in rural Ireland than to wake up on a sunny September morning with a promise of a day off school and a threshing in the neighbourhood. It was anticipated with excitement and wonder. It was up there with First Communion, Confirmation & my older sister's wedding. It was also one of the major social events in the farming calendar, giving both farmers and their work-men the opportunity to gather and exchange news and ideas. The wives too, gathered round to lend a hand with the 'feasting;' they helped with the preparation of huge amounts of food; tables creaking with bowls of lovely floury potatoes, fresh garden vegetables dressed with home-made butter. There were sides of bacon and generous proportions of mutton on the table and jugs of porter. There was a lot of organizational skills required of these ladies but they rose to the occasion and produced fine meals for the hungry workers. As for the youngsters, underfoot they were, being scolded but also praised for their 'help,' for them it was carnival time.
Not every farm in the locality would have a threshing, only those who specialized in grain growing – such as barley, wheat and some oats. We didn't live on a farm, therefore we didn't enjoy such an annual event but how we longed for an invitation to a neighbours'! However, we were generally invited along under the guise of 'helping.' I doubt whether we were of any help, more like getting in the way and under foot. We looked forward to that day like no other.
Having harvested the grain crop it was left in stooks to dry then brought in to the haggard to be stacked into reeks for threshing. Arrangements were then put in place to book the machinery and to have it delivered.
The sun invariably shone as the work could not go ahead if it was raining. The grain had to be protected from rain, so dry and hopefully, sunny conditions prevailed. My last remembered threshing was held on our neighbour's farm about a quarter of a mile away. I remember it especially for the sense of anticipation and sheer joy of the day that lay ahead. I 'threw' on my clothes, bolted down to the kitchen begging to be left go now! I suppose it must have been just about dawn. Children were not allowed in the haggard until everything was ship-shape and safe. At least as safe as was possible in those days when the phrase 'Safety in the Workplace' was not given the same importance as now. The whole farm yard was set up for the job at hand.
This was still in the days prior to the tractor and the machine was moved by a big steam engine. The sight of this black monster trundling down the road with its roaring whistle and hauling the equally brown monster was enough to fire the imagination and sometimes frighten smaller children. The thresher itself was a huge contraption; as big and as high as a large delivery van. It had belts, bolts, small wheels and shutters attached to its sides on the outside and who knows what compartments and gadgets the inside held, which could be viewed only from atop the actual threshing machine itself.
How the mill and steam engine, both of which were unwieldy contraptions, were moved along our narrow country lanes is hard to imagine, however move they did, followed by a merry bunch of youngsters shouting and cheering. The engine and thresher would have been placed in position the night before, beside or between the reeks of sheaves, ready for start-up before dawn. I remember waking at an unearthly hour to the whistle blow of the engine, calling all hands. I set out just as soon as I was set free and with a song in my young heart and my toes scarcely touching the ground, I flew the road like a bird. When I arrived the threshing was under way, the big day was here - my cup 'runneth over'.
So began my last day at a threshing and to write any more about it and to do it justice would take many more pages of sweet memories. Here's a taste of the poet Patrick Cavanagh's thoughts on his day of the threshing:
"And then I came to the haggard gate,
And I knew as I entered that I had come
Through fields that were part of no earthly estate."