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James Rea written account – working on the land

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Living in rural County Armagh, one of the most prevalent types of jobs available to James Rea was agricultural work. This week, James recounts some of the tasks he undertook on the land.

“Harvesting, like everything else was a lot of manual labour…Cutting the grass to make hay was the first harvest, usually in early July. Cutting was done by a mower drawn by two horses. Where the mower was unable to cut, we used a hand scythe…Excessive rains on the new cut meant a lot of work turning over the swathes with a hand rake in order for it to dry out…When dry it was raked into rows and we had to pick it up and shake it into bundles. It was then picked up and the loose ends folded under and set on the ground. This was called lapping, and only in continuous wet weather was this method used. Later the hay was picked up and built into tucks, or hay cocks as we called them. Later in the season, a horse drawn hay float would transport the hay cocks to the farmyard where they were stored in barns or hay sheds.”

Image: Turning the hay at the Ulster Folk Museum. Photo courtesy of Pamela Marhsall.
Turning the hay at the Ulster Folk Museum. Photo courtesy of Pamela Marhsall.

 “The flax was the next crop in line for harvest. It too was a complicated operation. Extra men were hired for pulling in the flax. The straw was more valuable than the seeds, so the plants were pulled by the root instead of cut. It was then tied in sheaves and at a later date hauled to an area where a large trench was located. The trench was six feet deep and eight feet across. The sheaves were buried in this trench for about two weeks. The sheaves were then taken out and opened up. They were then spread lightly on an area of the pastureland. When dried out it was retied and taken to a scutching mill that was owned and operated by the linen factory. The dried straw was brittle and more suitable for processing. In turn the fibre was separated and used for linen.”

Image: Pulling and binding flax, County Antrim (HOYFM.WAG.1011).
Pulling and binding flax, County Antrim (HOYFM.WAG.1011).
Image: Loading the flax grown at the Ulster Folk Museum. Photo courtesy of Pamela Marshall.
Loading the flax grown at the Ulster Folk Museum. Photo courtesy of Pamela Marshall.

“The last two items for harvest were potatoes and turnips. When the potatoes were ready, a plough drawn by two horses was used to uproot and divide the rows of potatoes or spuds as we called them. This method bared most of the spuds, but there was still a few to uncover. There were several brands of potatoes. Some white colour, some pink and then there was a brand known as Skerries, which were a dark reddish color. This particular type had an advantage in picking over the white ones. The reason being that they were difficult to find in the evening and that meant about half an hour earlier finishing work. Turnips were a root crop that required little work and care. Seeding was done with a hand-operated planter. Young turnips were thinned out to about six inches when they were about three or four inches high. Turnips were mostly used for livestock feed in the winter. They were put through a hand-operated mill, which cut them into strips before feeding. This meant that they were always fresh at feeding time.”

Image: Drills of potatoes with red potatoes ready to collect at the Ulster Folk Museum. Photo courtesy of Pamela Marshall.
Drills of potatoes with red potatoes ready to collect at the Ulster Folk Museum. Photo courtesy of Pamela Marshall.

Next week, we’ll take a look at what life was like for James in the home.