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The seventh Station: Farming

Monday, 30 November, 2015

Each cow had a name and a designated place in the stall. All had unique personalities and this had to be taken into account during the milking, otherwise the bucket might be kicked over and its valuable contents would merge with the rushes and dung that covered the cow-house floor. Unappetizing. Unprofitable. It paid to be mindful.

Mother milking

Nothing much changed when the milking machine arrived. The hard labour of milking by hand ended and the herd size doubled, but the individual attention to the cows remained the same. Mother and father fed them all kinds of good things: wheat pollard decorated with pulped turnips; crisp hay adorned with scented beet pulp and, above all, good grass. In return, they delivered quality milk. My mother’s love of cows was more than the stereotypical affection for those big bovine eyes. It was bound up with the firm knowledge that care and attention would be rewarded with a product that fed the family, warmed the home and provided for the rainy day.

The cows and their precious milk were part of an ecosystem called “the farm”. Like the cows, this was not an anonymous conglomerate: each field had its own name: the Paddock, the Long Field, the Spout Field, the Drainy Field, the Meadow, Egan’s, Neill’s, Franks’… That latter name was bound up with a contested Anglo-Irish history that stretched back to the 17th century and both my parents had an encyclopaedic knowledge of the connections between the parts that made up the whole. Twice, in the 1960s, they bought fields that helped turn the farm into a more viable enterprise. This was the biggest “play” of their careers. Money had to be borrowed which was risky because farming, regardless of the scale, is a hazardous industry and an accident or an illness can change everything in an instant. With a young family and a lack of “staff”, as my mother used say, they took the chance, anyway, and it paid off. Their assembly of fields, paid for with blood, sweat and tears, was their joint masterpiece — a true labour of love.

There’s a vague memory of early summer Sunday mornings, when the milking still took place in the fields. It was early because the milk had to be taken earlier than usual to the creamery on a Sunday. The splish-splash of the milk hitting the inside of the metal buckets was accompanied by the sound of my mother and father singing. They were in their prime, they were healthy, they were happy and they were in their fields.

Our next station in this series of meditations on 14 photographs is Bibs.


Filed in: Family, Ireland, Mother, Work • Tags: , , ,

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  1. The eighth Station: Bibs | Eamonn Fitzgerald's Rainy Day | Tuesday, 1 December, 2015