It was, they agreed, a hasky day but powerful for the time of year and good for getting out the pratties. The three of us were digging them out with spades, gathering at intervals.
All day the wind had blustered under a cloud-packed sky which rolled in butter-paper grey into the east … but after noon the clouds showed octopus arms of light and became saturated with brightness. Now and then the light romped over hills and turned the bracken as red as a fox, the ditches blue-grey and the moss hillocks gold. It warmed the fatigued air over the fields and one field, thick with flowering gilgown weeds went as yellow as mustard.
There was carnival colour in decaying leaf; and the romping light might have been autumn’s yellow handshake in its pageant of farewell, bidding the earth so-long.
Towards evening the crows flew off stealthily towards the wood nearby as the light faded. Dead priddy stalks chattered and a leaf ticked. Thistledown felt the wind’s pluck and vanished over the ditch.
We took shelter behind a ditch of whins when the shower broke and, cleaning our hands on our trousers, filled our pipes. The inside of each leg was plastered with clabber to the knee so a little extra hardly mattered.
‘I hope in God,’ the old man began, ‘that the weather doesn’t break. You might as well be on a whale’s back as up here at Hollantine … thon’s a bag’ll carry away …’
And he made to get up as the wind plucked the end of the bag off the bing of pritties.
He had been a sailor most of his days.
The old man was his father, the second, Peader, a neighbour and Michael J Murphy himself made up the threesome of potato gatherers.
I was fortunate as a boy to have a grandfather and an uncle whom we visited in South Armagh and who lived akin to this, in the same period, the last of innocence before the Troubles intruded like a plague and drove out a gentle life style that had lasted for centuries.
Jack and Jamesey had the stories and the folklore too.
At least we have the master’s words for comfort, ‘the last of the druids’ as Ben Kiely amusedly named him and Michael J was tickled, recognising some validity in that he was the final chronicler of an ancient folklore.