Rathfriland long ago

When we lived there almost eighty years ago, the town of Rathfriland was small, gathered together on top of a gusty steep hill at the very foot of which the farms began.

 Everyone who owned anything, owned land; practically every householder, whatever his occupation spent part of his time down in the fields. At milking time, morning and evening the cows ambled slowly up the steep streets.  When flax was being pulled or corn cut or hay saved, the able-bodied deserted the town to spend the daylight hours in the fields and in the evening they would come climbing wearily up the hill in the fading light.

At flax time we were taught how to make rush bands for tying the newly-pulled flax and as the line of stooping pullers stripped the field of its crop we joined the women and boys following in its wake to bind the bundles of green, blue-blossomed stalks. We walked behind mowing machines as they cut down the ripe hay and corn, sending frightened corncrakes scuttling for shelter into the ditches. In autumn or early winter the blue smoke of a steam traction engine told us that corn was being threshed and we gathered all the mongrels in the countryside to chase the rats that came scuttling out of the bottom of the stack. 

There was a market once a week and a monthly fair; there was horse-shoeing at the bottom of our street, there was always someone wanting a cow or pony brought up from the fields. When the winter frosts put a shine on the roads every imaginable sort of home-made sleigh was brought out, and laughing, screaming parties skimmed down the hill into the darkness.

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