Saturday, 25 October 2014

Iron Gates and Stone Pillars

Where I live, in the North West of Ulster, there's a lot of agriculture.  And cows.  And sheep.  Of course it wasn't always so.  Sometime around the 12th Century, when the Normans were in ascendancy, there was a move away from semi-nomadic clan life towards the creation of boundaries and, in turn, fields to demarcate small holdings, where tenant labourers could keep a cow or two and grow vegetables and crops.  Raised walls of earth were formed to make these boundaries, ditches were cut to channel water and raths were built to fortify dwellings.

On higher ground, such as the Antrim hills, sheep can still be seen wandering about the boggy areas, where turf or peat is still dug by hand (or hand and foot, to be precise) and few fields exist.   But the lower ground is largely made up of relatively small fields, even with the advent of modern farm machinery designed for larger areas.  Round these parts some crops are grown - mostly potatoes with the odd field of barley or corn, but by far the most popular use of land is to graze cattle, for either dairy or beef.  This makes sense, as our grass is very lush and green, what with all the rain and what have you.  Some fields are left entirely to grass, which is then cut for silage, to feed the cattle during the winter.

Drills for seed potatoes, c1977

Elsewhere in Ireland stone walls are used to separate field from field, but around these parts fields are mostly separated by thorn hedges - usually hawthorn, which is also known as may, whitethorn or just plain haw.  The common phrase heard every springtime is 'Never cast a clout till (the) May is out' - in other words, don't discard any clothes until the May has blossomed, which is usually around May-June time.    A wise saying, since our springs can be still very cold into early May.

But I digress, as usual.  The subject for today is our lovely vanishing gates and pillars.  Mostly these examples of old iron-mongery have simply rusted away and have been replaced by horrible galvanised vanilla gates, which have little character.  Unlike this one:

Iron gate and stone pillar, c1977
Now isn't this a beauty?  Cows and all in the background and a lovely pillar to boot! You can the problem - the stone pillar is falling to pieces.  This photograph, taken and printed by The Brother, c1977, shows a lovely 7-bar gate which used to be not too far away from home and is long since gone.  I like old gates and all being well you'll see a few more of them here in the future.

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