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A very Irish Journey

These days everyone is on a ‘journey’. Whether it’s writing a book, converting the farm to organics, letting the hair go white or potty-training a dog, the ‘journey’ is sure to be ‘absolutely amazing’.

As a metaphor for describing the change process it’s as worn as a Roman road but it isn’t a bad one. A journey takes you out of yourself, away from the familiar and opens up the senses to all kinds of new experiences and possibilities.

A couple I once knew, whose children were grown and gone, would regularly take a day to go on what they called ‘a school tour’. “When we’d get tired of looking at one another we’d travel to find other people to look at,” the woman in the relationship explained to me.

Along the way they tried to meet as many people as they could. They picked up hitch hikers to find out who they were, where they were coming from, where they were going to and who their mother was. If they went into a pub they made sure it was at a quiet time in the afternoon when they’d have the landlord or landlady to themselves. At dinner and supper they interviewed the waiters and waitresses and any guests who happened to be located at a table within earshot or shouting distance.

When they were fed, found and full of news they’d return home with enough to talk about until the next time they got tired of looking at one another.

Journeys heighten the senses and sharpen the powers of observation alerting the traveller to the most minute of details. I remember as a young lad I drove a tractor from Kildimo in Co Limerick to Liscannor in Co Clare. The trusty Ferguson 65 had become surplus to requirements so, it was ‘put on the paper’ where it sold to a Liscannor farmer living 50 miles away on the shores of the Atlantic. As part of the deal my father agreed to deliver the machine but hadn’t considered how he was going to fulfil that part of the bargain. I solved the problem by volunteering to drive the tractor to Clare.

I had a soft spot for the old Ferguson. Earlier that summer he had loaned it to me, along with a finger-bar mower, and I hired myself out topping fields and cutting rushes for the princely sum of £3 an acre.

I was in mid-contract on a local estate when ‘his lordship’ arrived from across the water for his annual visit. While touring the property he pulled up in the Land Rover to chat to me and was effusive in his praise of my kindness and generosity. When he returned to the yard and discovered from his steward that these excellent qualities of mine were costing him £3 an acre, me and my beloved Ferguson were shown the gate.

At the end of August, with the hay in, the silage pit sealed and the tractor sold I mounted the faithful steed for the last time, facing her east for Limerick before turning north west for Liscannor. After passing through Limerick I was on the dual carriageway to Shannon with no cab and no protection from the elements when the skies opened. It felt as if every drop of rain was as big as a small bucket and aimed directly at me. I stopped at Durty Nellies in Bunratty to get some rest and sustenance and I also needed to empty my trousers, an operation that is not quite as indelicate as it sounds. I was wearing waterproofs, but the rain flowing down over my jacket was lodging under my rear end in the tractor seat. Some of the run-off was penetrating the ‘water proofs’ and so, when I dismounted, a gallon of water flowed down the back of my legs and into my shoes. Durty Nellies was dark and warm and smelled of turf smoke, tobacco, porter, garlic and oxtail soup. I went all exotic and had myself the most delicious bowl of chowder I ever tasted. Suitably fortified and somewhat less wet I came out to find the weather had worsened. I tilted the seat forward to empty it of rainwater before easing myself into position.

Turning the key, the Perkins engine purred into life and I continued north west through Newmarket-on-Fergus, Clarecastle, Ennis, Inagh, Ennistymon and Lahinch, not stopping until I drove into the new owner’s yard.

As soon as I arrived my father drove in to the yard after me. We were invited for tay and scones, the tractor was paid for, the new owner got £5 for luck and I got £10 for ‘my troubles’ and my wet arse. On the way home my father said, “Jamesie, that’s a journey you’ll never forget.” He was right.

On a recent trip to the beach at Lahinch in the company of the current consort and the baby of the bunch, I recalled my rain-soaked 50-mile trip on the cab-less tractor. They agreed the journey must have been “absolutely amazing.”

First published in the Farming Independent, Tuesday, May 18th 2021

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