by Sarah O’Mahony© January 2012
One day as I was visiting my grandmother. She sat back in her chair and started to tell a story about long ago when she was a small girl. She used to walk to mass every Sunday with her older sisters, mother and father. Her face started to light up and her eyes had a tiny sparkle in them. I knew that she was about to share something that she really loved doing when she was small.
She lived in a small farmhouse that had lovely little green fields around it. The house looked out to the sea. The walk took them over the little narrow boreens (in Ireland these are narrow roads with a ridge of green grass going through the centre of them) and paths across the hills to the village. The journey took place every Sunday morning in wintertime and summertime. It was very long walk indeed. It took over three hours at least to do. She would be tired and very hungry by the time they made it back home later that day.
The part of the journey that she liked the best was on cold wet wintry and very windy days she and some of the other children would either hide under or behind the big enormous skirts that the older women of the peninsula used to wear. It was really warm and cosy to shelter in these skirts! The women’s skirts were so big and long and warm they went all the way to the ground, the material that they were made from was very strong and the rain never got through.
The skirts were called frieze skirts (pronounced like fry’s). The women made the material themselves at home. They used the wool from their sheep. The sheep were always glad of having their woolly coats removed. This would happen before it got too warm in the summer time. Then the sheep were free to grow a nice new coat again for next winter.
The women washed the wool and removed anything stuck in the wool. There could be briars, thorns, and even insects like flies and smelly maggots tangled in it. They spun the wool on a spinning wheel to make the woollen thread. Then the spun wool was put on a loom. The women pushed and pulled the handle of the loom and this magic machine turned the thread into material for the skirts. The material was a kind of coarse woollen cloth.
In those times nearly all of the people that lived there didn’t have a “motor car” and people used horses and “cars” (carts) or walked mostly. There were parts of the road that were sheltered by a “high stone ditch”. Or there could be a hollow in the road before she would have to climb up steeply. The women walked and talked to each other about “women’s matters” such as children, relatives that were sick and dying, cows, baking cakes and “all other important farm matters.”
The sky could be dark and there could be a heavy shower of rain coming in from the sea. So shelter had to be thought about quickly! It was important to keep warm and cosy. The children got nice rosey red cheeks from the cold sharp frosty wind. They would have to keep their heads down and face into the wind.
That was the journey west-ward home. There was a lot to see “going west the road”. Looking over the little stone ditches. The cows and cattle would be out on the fields munching grass.
So on Sunday morning each week and in all sorts of weather this journey would be made. What a journey to make each week! Once one Sunday was over, it was time to get ready for the next Sunday’s adventure out again.