The West's Awake by Cormac MacConnell
Weather, money and turf - Ireland does things its own way
Posted on Saturday, June 16, 2012 at 07:10 AM
- Bishop Eamon Casey served us well, and deserves our prayers
- A lovely tale of island life in the paradise of West Clare
- The Boarding Out orphan was a wonderful pick
- How do the Irish regard their American visitors? With pride
- Absolutely no relation to US Republican politician Mitch McConnell
Official summer arrived at the beginning of June and with it came torrents of rain. Our spring, on the other hand, was so sunny and bright and dry that it was better than most of the summers of the last five years.
The countryside was parched and so dry the farmers were looking at the sky and praying for rain. By heavens their prayers were answered!
These days and nights, as the downpour continues, you can actually hear the green grass growing and the flowers purring with the pleasure of it all.
Dodging the showers earlier tonight, I slipped down to The Honk. The talk along the bar was all about money.
But not about the recession or the current Eurozone problems of which we are a central part. Not at all.
The conversation was about the currency system changes which we have lived through and adjusted to over recent years. We had to cope with the end of the era when there were eight half-crowns in the old pound, no less than 240 pennies in the same pound, halfpennies and thruppeny bits and tanners.
We were no sooner adjusted to that than we had to change over again to the euro and all the implications of that.
The consensus opinion was that there are still millions of pounds worth of old coins lying up in bags and boxes in the country, that the general public cop on very quickly indeed to new currencies because money is involved and that an old half-crown (worth 30 pence back then) has far more purchasing power in its day than even a five euro note today. That is probably totally true too.
We remembered the years when the dollars that came home in the fabled American letters from our emigrants were generally reckoned to be worth seven to six dollars in the old money -- or three half-crowns for each dollar -- and a housewife could buy a lot of groceries for that alone.
And one man remembered calling for a pint in a border pub only a few years ago, paying for it with an English £5 note, and getting back an Irish five euro note along with a fistful of loose change!
I myself recalled wages of £2 weekly in Fermanagh as a cub reporter apprentice and being able to buy my first bicycle out of that on the HP system! And a few half-crowns left over too.
Five years later I was earning £5 and truly never had as much purchasing power ever since. Many families with a single breadwinner on £10 wages back then were relatively comfortable.
Today those of us who are still smoking cigarettes have to spend nearly €10 for a pack of 20. People are quitting the addiction in considerable numbers lately on cost grounds rather than health concerns!
Away altogether from that, I heard a great yarn which testifies strongly to the resilience of rural wisdoms. Turf cutting is a political and topical issue this summer as I mentioned here before a few weeks ago.
Somebody told the story of the tractors with loads of turf behind them coming out of a local bog in numbers years ago when all families burned turf by the ton. Young lads would invariably perch themselves atop the loads of turf as they jolted along the road home and, being boys, would be given to throwing sods of turf at anything moving along the verges.
There was one old man who was now too frail to cut his own turf but who had brainpower to burn. He would stand in his front roadside garden and would verbally incite the young lads as they passed, abusing their fathers and families and themselves too.
They would naturally respond with volleys of sods from the trailer loads. They would never be able to hit him because of their unsteady foundations, but the upshot was that wily oldster had as much turf as he needed for his hearth when he gathered up all the missiles. I like that a lot.
I went outside five minutes ago. The rain has stopped.
It will be a fine day tomorrow in Clare. Sure it almost always is just that.